When Tom Hurley, Senior Facilities Specialist in Facilities Planning & Institutional Services at St. Petersburg College, recently visited the iLab at SPC’s Seminole campus, it was for an interesting type of tech help. Hurley came to see if the iLab could 3D print a part that he was looking for. When an actuator connector, which helps control many of SPC’s water temperature valves, fails, it costs over $200 to replace the entire electric actuator controller. Hurley found that the iLab could print these actuator connectors on demand so that a repair could happen very quickly while saving the college money.
SPC’s iLab has been working with 3D printing technologies since 2014 and has printed many different objects over the years for students, faculty, and the public.
3D printing, sometimes called additive manufacturing, is a process of making three-dimensional objects from digital files that are created using CAD (computer-aided design) software and/or 3D scanners. 3D design applications and 3D printing are not new technologies, but they seem to have taken over the world. 3D printed cars, homes, prosthetics, food, tools and prototypes are more frequently making their way into our news feeds.
To print a part, an object file is sent to the 3D printer software (e.g., Repetier) and sliced to create multiple layers. A material is selected, often plastic, rubber, nylon, resin, ceramic, steel, gypsum or wood. The Innovation Lab (iLab) on St. Petersburg College’s Seminole Campus uses PLA (Polylactic Acid), a bio-degradable polymer that can be produced from lactic acid, which can be fermented from crops such as maize.
Joshua Stein, a recent St. Petersburg College graduate and former iLab student assistant and tutor, designed the actuator connector part, and 20 connectors were printed for Facilities departments throughout the college to use when these parts need replacing. One connector takes less than 10 minutes to print.
Nick Chase, Facilities Technician on the Seminole Campus, says 3D printing replacement parts is a win for the college.
“Printing the wheels that are running our automatic sliding doors can save the college up to $90 per part because we no longer have to purchase the entire sensor kit to replace those wheels when they break,” Chase said.
The replacement wheels, if printed solid, take a little over one hour to print and will use about 1,000 mm of filament, which would cost less than 25 cents for materials.
For more information about 3D printing at SPC, check out our article published in Computers in Libraries Magazine, “St. Petersburg College’s Innovation Lab: How We Built a 3D Printer … Almost”.